Tom and Holly were the first to stir my passion for social justice and social activism through music. At that point in my life, as a young girl, all the music that I loved came from these car rides, from Jewish camp, from my temple choir, and from Andrew Lloyd Webber. Though I was vaguly aware of Madona, Cindy and NKOTB, I had a deeply rooted sense that music was how we recorded and shared our beliefs, our history and our values. Holly Near sang about women loving women and about strip mining in the Appalachians; Joni sang about paving paradise and Cat asked "Where will the Children Play?"; Peter, Paul and Mary sang about awkward kids playing baseball ad the love between brothers and sisters and about friendly dragons; Debbie Friedman sang about women in the Bible and about God; and all of them sang about peace - and I sang along (loudly and with precocious enthusiasm) and thought it was all perfectly normal.
But I think I learned the most from Tom. Growing up in Canada, Tom's music was how I came to know about the Viet Nam War, about Carter and Reagan, about South African apartheid, about nuclear power plants and disappearing forests, and about the threat of too many lawyers. He sang stories - important stories - and his music moved people to care and to act and even to laugh in spite of it all. It also didn't hurt that he sang about marvelous toys and about going to the zoo.
Last night, I had a chance to see Tom Paxton live for the first time. And while he did not sing ANY of the songs I had come to love as a youngster in my parents minivan, it was still incredible to hear him and to be close to someone who's music influenced my childhood and my values so strongly. It was a powerful reminder of how much difference one voice, one song, one harmony can make.
Although I listen to more varied musical genres now - some of them far more frivolous - Tom remains part of my musical bedrock, along with all those other folk-singing, world-changing equal-opportunity angels. Through their influence I came to love the Indigo Girls and Dar WIlliams and Sarah McLauchlin and any one else who sings pretty songs to make people think; to make people aware; to help people mourn; to move people to act.
Just before the concert, I attended a meeting of City Shul volunteers who have raised an incredible amount of money in an incredibly short amount of time in order to be able to sponsor Syrian Refugees and bring them to a new and safer life in Canada. Together we studied texts from Torah that emphasize the biblical invective to care for the stranger, "for you were strangers in Egypt", as well as the text from Mishna that instructs each of us to see ourselves as if we had personally been redeemed from Egypt.
My soul remembers coming out of Egypt and walking to the Promised land. My heart remembers being at Sinai. I don't doubt that Tom and Holly, and Peter and Debbie. and Amy and Emily, and Sarah and all the rest were there too. I hear the echos of redemption in their voices. I experience revelation in their sacred lyrics. When I forget that I was at Sinai - that I was once a slave too - their music reminds me. And when I am unsure if I can make a difference in the world, they are the ones who show me the way.